Emmy preview: Will 'Game of Thrones' maintain reign, and other story lines to watch

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(CNN)The Emmy Awards always involve multiple subplots, but drawing clear trends or patterns from the voting can be elusive.

Identifying big-picture lessons from the Emmys has become more challenging since the Television Academy, which presents the awards, implemented changes to its voting procedure. Small blue-ribbon judging panels gave way to the group's 20,000 members voting on key winners, rendering the awards more democratic.
That shift likely gave "Game of Thrones" a lift in breaking through with its first best drama series Emmy last year in the HBO show's fifth season, after being repeatedly nominated but overlooked.
    Will that show, and HBO's political comedy "Veep," repeat? Those are among several intriguing Emmy-night storylines:

    Will "Game of Thrones" retain its crown?

    HBO's signature series earned recognition that many fans thought was overdue -- and set a single-year record with 12 awards overall in the process. The question now is whether anything can shake its hold on the Emmy throne.
    The nine honors the show already won in technical categories at the recent Creative Arts Emmys -- a pretty overwhelming display of power -- suggest a repeat is likely, despite a very competitive field.
    The less-seen challengers include "Mr. Robot," which probably hasn't been helped by an uneven second season (even if that's not what's being judged); and "The Americans," a critical darling that finally garnered key nominations for the series and its stars in the program's fourth season. As for nostalgia, "Downton Abbey" has its last shot at best drama, after six spectacular years on PBS.

    Broadcasters blocked out

    The major networks might still attract the biggest audiences overall, but their presence at the Emmys has gradually diminished. That trend is again evident, with "Downton" representing the only broadcast series to make the best-drama cut.
    The networks do have some key players in contention, including "Empire's" Taraji P. Henson, the limited series "American Crime" and ABC's comedy tandem of "Modern Family" and "Black-ish" as well as the latter's stars Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross.

    Scratching a niche

    An explosion of channels and streaming services offering original series has yielded "riches in niches," as producer/director Ava DuVernay recently put it in describing TV's creative renaissance.
    Yet one frequent complaint from broadcasters has been the attention showered on cable or streaming series with tiny audiences, potentially provoking a "What's that?" response from much of the viewing audience when those names are called.
    For the networks, which trade off broadcasting the Emmys, the situation is more than academic. Executives fret that if streaming titles like "Transparent" and "Master of None" provoke blank stares, viewers will have less of a rooting interest in the outcome, and ratings will suffer. (This year's show will air on ABC.)

    Diversity dividend

    Amid criticism of the movie industry for a dearth of minority nominations that launched the #OscarsSoWhite hash tag, TV delivered the most diverse Emmys in years. That includes a record quarter of the acting nominations going to people of color, after Viola Davis' groundbreaking 2015 win for "How to Get Away With Murder."
    Still, translating nominees into a commensurate percentage of winners is hardly a certainty. That's especially true in a category like best actor in a TV movie or limited series, where Cuba Gooding Jr., Idris Elba and Courtney B. Vance are grouped with Bryan Cranston, the likely favorite for his portrayal of President Johnson in HBO's "All the Way."

    Late-night's next leading man

    Jon Stewart dominated the late-night category, with "The Daily Show" winning 10 consecutive Emmys from 2003-12, and again last year in its final season.
    Now, with Trevor Noah taking over the program was overlooked in this year's balloting (as was "Late Show With Stephen Colbert"), opening the door for another late-night players to claim that mantle.
    James Corden would likely benefit most by winning for his CBS later-night show. To do so, he'll have to edge Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Bill Maher, and "Daily Show" alum John Oliver (whose team already won for writing), as well as Jerry Seinfeld, a surprise nominee for the Crackle show "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee."
    And "leading man," incidentally, literally applies in this case: Samantha Bee's TBS show "Full Frontal" didn't receive an Emmy bid, despite plenty of critical accolades.

    Politics meets primetime

    Politics are historically popular with Emmy voters, and this year is no exception, with "Veep" and "House of Cards" joined by nominations for the HBO movies "All the Way" and the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas story "Confirmation."
    With the presidential election less than two months away, there's also the heightened specter of politics rearing its head within the telecast.
    Host Jimmy Kimmel figures to make a few jokes at the candidates' expense. But given Hollywood's perceived leanings, conservative watchdogs in particular will be on high alert for comments, speeches and slights aimed at Republicans and presidential nominee Donald Trump.

    Go, 'O.J.', go

    "The People v O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story" was one of the year's most-buzzed-about shows, totaling 22 nominations, one fewer than "Thrones."
    Already honored with four Emmys in advance of Sunday's telecast, FX's limited series should be tough to beat, despite formidable competition from the second seasons of "Fargo" and "American Crime," as well as the miniseries "The Night Manager" and "Roots."
    The main suspense, in fact, might be which members of its high-profile cast receive a more or less favorable verdict from the academy than their real-life counterparts did from the jury.